modernism in art

late impressionism through surrealism

Italian Futurism


• SH essay, Italian Futurism: An Introduction

• SH essay, Giacomo Balla, The Street Light

• SH essay, Umberto Boccioni, Unique Forms of Continuity in Space

• SH essay, Giovanni Severini, Dynamic Hieroglyph of the Bal Tabarin

• SH essay, Umberto Boccioni and the Futurist City

• selections from the Futurist manifestoes (primary source)

• SH essay, Futurist Free Word Painting

key terms and concepts: Futurism, dynamism

The Italian Futurists painted in a variety of different styles, ranging from Cubist-like compositions of angular facets to Pointillist-like compositions of brightly colored dots and dashes. The Futurists borrowed the surface appearance of these movements, but applied them to their own particular aim: to capture and convey what they thought of as the essence of modern life: dynamism -- fast-paced motion and energy. While almost every ‘modernist’ movement we have seen so far actually turned against ‘modernity’ (understood as the sweeping social, economic, technological, intellectual, and lifestyle changes that accompanied industrialization), the Futurists actively embraced those changes (as indeed the name of the movement suggests). How is this embrace of ‘the modern’ visible already in the subject matter of the works below?

Read the two Futurist Manifestos (above) and be sure you understand the two main demands the Futurists made: destroy the old and establish a new aesthetic and a new society based on dynamism. Why does Marinetti exhort the burning of libraries, the flooding of museums and so on? (Why was this destruction of the old particularly important to -- and difficult for -- the Italians?) Why were the Futurists in favor of masculinity and war (how does this interest fit in with their interest in dynamism)?

Be sure you understand the difference between depicting "a fixed moment in universal dynamism" and depicting "the dynamic sensation itself" (Futurist Painting: Technical Manifesto, 1910). What are some of the ways in which the paintings below attempt to convey motion in a still representation? What hints did the Futurists derive from contemporary photographers such as Muybridge and Marey?

In addition to the literal understanding of dynamism as motion, the Futurists also attempted to depict energy in art. Think about that: energy is not really visible, so how can you depict it in visual art? The early-20th century saw the discovery of energy beyond be visible spectrum (color), including ultraviolet and infrared waves, radio waves, X-rays, gamma rays, etc. How do we see the attempt to depict, not just objects in motion, but even energy itself in the works below?

Balla. Street Light, Italian Futurism, 1909-10

Boccioni, The City Rises, Italian Futurism, 1910

Boccioni, States of Mind: The Farewells, Italian Futurism, 1911